We’ve all heard of mansplaining – that is men explaining to women something women already know. Or worse, men telling something obvious to women.
Well, now we have SMU-splaining. In this case, the president of Saint Mary’s University was going to host a panel next week called “Bridges—Not walls: A Round Table Discussion on Intercultural Learning.” All panel participants were white ‘professional splainers.’ How can it be in the city of Halifax there is not one “diverse” person good enough to contribute to a panel discussion on diversity at the province’s second largest university?
Four participants include SMU President Robert Summerby-Murray, Asa Kachan (CEO of Halifax Public Library) and former city councillor Jennifer Watts (current CEO of ISANS).
Willful ignorance, arrogance and a desperation to continue to do what the university does best – not take a meaningful stand on diversity and human rights. Sure Saint Mary’s is fine when it boasts about its “diverse” student population; when it pats itself on the back because students come from more than 100 countries; when it brags that 50% of the students in the business school are from China. But that’s where it ends.
Item: In June 2018, one of two Indigenous faculty members (out of 280 faculty) quit to take a position at an Ontario university that expressly welcomes Indigenous faculty. The former faculty member criticized SMU for its lack of progress on acting on the recommendations outlined in a report by a University task force on Aboriginal students. The prof also complained that she felt she was merely a “token” Indigenous professor.
Item: In 2013, an African-Canadian professor at SMU quit to take a faculty job in a Vancouver-area university. He had been subject to racial slurs in the wider Halifax community, and hate speech. He was humiliated by SMU security officers who – not knowing he was a professor — challenged his right to stand at the front of the classroom – in front of his students.
Item: In 2016, an applicant for a position in the Sobey School of Business settled her complaint of racism when she was not hired for a faculty position. She was South-Asian, and her case went before a Board of Inquiry convened by the NS Human Rights Commission. Her case was dropped when SMU offered her an undisclosed sum to settle, without the job.
Item: In 2007-8, an African-Canadian applied for a faculty job in the Sobey School of Business. The candidate had excellent student evaluations, above average qualifications, and the department voted to give him the job. However, his appointment was denied at the level of the university president. The candidate complained to the NS Human Rights Commission. SMU offered him a financial settlement; he left Halifax.
There are other cases as well.
What this shows is that – unfortunately — the selection of the four white people to speak at a forum on intercultural learning is not out of character or a momentary aberration for Saint Mary’s University.
The latest news is that SMU has cancelled the roundtable – until next fall. No one took ownership or responsibility for having made a mistake in getting an all-white panel. Rather than simply finding a person of colour, whose presence might draw more attention to the gaffe, Public Relations 101 dictated that the University postpone the event for more than seven months and pretend it was an entirely new event. In any case SMU failed to take ownership of the blunder. That’s a process that could be called SMU-splaining.
Judy Haiven retired as a Professor in the Management Department at Saint Mary’s University. She is on the Steering Committee of Equity Watch.